Delight in your delight....

"I like Laurel," M told me the other day, "Not just because she's our kid, but she's fun and interesting to hang out with."

I thought about that and about what people told me having children was like before I had my own. You'll fall in love with them, they said, and I get that, like sometimes when I go into her room to check on her at night and she's sleeping peacefully, clutching whatever stuffed animal has become her best friend this week. It's like stomach-flipping, heart-fluttering love-at-the-sight when I see those closed eyes, blond hair spilling across her pillow.

Or maybe it's just gratitude that the darn kid finally went to sleep. (Oh, the endless bedtime rituals of a potty-training toddler. Sigh.)

Nah, it's gotta be love. I feel fiercely protective of her, and worried that she'll die or get hurt in a way that I don't worry about other people in my life. Some of that must be biology, because it feels visceral. Not based in logic. Logic helps me manage those fears, but they rise from somewhere deep within me.

The neighbor bought her a present. Little plastic Disney princess dolls with changeable outfits. Laurel could not have been more pleased to receive a present like this. She cradled them and worked endlessly to figure out how to take the clothes on and off herself. She played for hours with them tonight, entertaining herself with a complicated storyline that involved a swimming pool made out of sauce pot, a tea party, and the bathtub. Normally, I'm not that into Disney princesses, and M hates them, but I couldn't help but be delighted in Laurel's delight.

Laurel isn't going to be just like us. I know we'll influence her as her parents, and that we'll naturally be selective in the kinds of experiences she gets to have while under our supervision, but we can't make her be like M & K. And despite that, we can still like her and enjoy her company, and maybe now and again, get excited about something totally different, just because she likes it.



I finally downloaded some pictures from the camera. Sometimes I pick Laurel up from daycare and she looks about 14 years old to me. 


Road Trip!

Once upon a time, M & K used to go on road trips all the time. With a loose itinerary and a spirit of adventure, we picked roads by flipping coins and pulled over randomly to pick berries on the side of the road. We never knew where we would sleep at night, but always had firewood and beer. There were some crazy good times back in the summer of 2006.

We have a placemat that has a geo-political map of the United States. Laurel inspects it over breakfast and asks where everybody she knows lives (which is mostly in Pittsburgh). It confuses her that Grandpa Curly could live on the same dot as we do, when he clearly lives very far away over a river and through some woods. Oh, geography. You really need to get in your car (or better yet, if you have the disposition, get out a backpack and walk) at a meandering pace to really understand the expansiveness of the United States. I remember being totally blown away by the historic Lewis and Clark highway, which roughly follows their journey west.

M had a conference in DC this weekend, and he took Laurel with him. She did not want to talk to me last night before bed, but this morning she called me to tell me she was "at Maryland and ate yogurt for breakfast. And berries." She's hanging out with his relatives during the day and is most definitely going to have a good time.

Next week, when I show her Maryland on the placemat map, what will she think?


Maternity Leave

Whoa, so much controversy in the media about Marissa Mayer's maternity leave, or lack thereof. I was not a high powered CEO at the time of Laurel's birth, but I was employed. I worked as a graduate student researcher while I was finishing my master's degree, and worked about 10 hours a week on campus, plus took 2 classes. I didn't take a maternity leave because....well, they don't really offer that to graduate student peons, and I really needed to keep my health insurance. I also had no flipping clue what it would be like to take care of a newborn, and thought - if not a piece of cake - that it would be at least doable to continue working without pause.

I guess it was doable. I mean, we did it. I finished my degree and managed to fulfill my job expectations with a creative mix of having my mom come to babysit, dropping Laurel off at M's office, and carting Laurel along to my office, breastfeeding her discretely while typing at my desk, changing diapers in between conducting training sessions, and praying she wouldn't cry too loud, because Pitt is definitely not a take-your-baby-to-work kind of place.

Life got easier in some ways once we got better paying jobs and could afford full-time daycare, but there's just not a lot that's fun about waking up multiple times at night with a fussy baby and then teaching math. However, as a working mom I felt good about being able to make a living that allowed us to make some safety improvements in our home and buy a car and have access to really great health care and organic food. These are all things that are important to Laurel's well being too.

If you assign a dollar value to everything in your life, it becomes easy to see why Marrisa Mayer would want to stay dedicated to her job. She's a CEO. She's making beaucoup bucks. I'd want to hang on to that, too.

We're not all living in the same America. Rich and poor and middle class women don't have equal access to anything, much less decisions about maternity leave. We do the best that we can with what we've got, and probably the last thing any woman needs is a lot of judgment about how she weighed the pros and cons of her own decision.


Weather and Biking

99% of the time it is awesome to bike in our city. And then there's the percent where you get caught in a torrential downpour with lightening flashing all around you and a flash flood on the extremely busy street you are trying to cross while towing 50 pounds of trailer and kid.


Date Night!! And some Love....

We sent Laurel away for the night and went on a date. It was very hot last night, so we drove to the movie theater, which is a bit unlike us, but, well....it was very, very hot. We went to see Moonrise Kingdom and it was charming and fantastical, just like the reviews said. But even better than seeing a pretty good movie, was that we discovered the movie theater has been renovated. It no longer smells like stale popcorn and the floor isn't sticky. Also, there's a bar in it, and you can take your drinks into the theater.

On the way home, I was on the lookout for criminals, because we've had a rash of armed robberies in the neighborhood. This seems to happen every summer. There have been a lot of shootings in the city recently, as well. Sad stories of 17 year old kids shot dead at the bottom of a city staircase. Ever since I taught in a high school, the age of 17 seems so young, innocent, raw, and full of possibility. When I pulled into my driveway yesterday there were 6 police cars across the street, plus the detectives. Who knows what or who they busted, but the constant stream of drug dealers and prostitutes on that corner has turned into my little pet project for the summer.  It's hard to know how to handle drug dealers. Drug dealers bring drug users, and they are annoying to have around because they break into your house steal your property to feed their habit. Prostitutes are almost always drug users, and mainly it just makes me sad. But I have a hard time knowing what to campaign for on behalf of my neighborhood association, other than to just push them off "our" corner into somebody else's. I don't have any real solutions. I go to a lot of public safety meetings with police, the mayor's office, other community groups, think tank consultants and they don't really either.

But some people do. There is some serious Love with a capital L going on and her name is Vanessa German. She's an artist and a resident of Homewood, which is the neighborhood to the north of mine. She talks about her work at Love Front Porch. If you drive around the Homewood or Point Breeze you may have seen some of her yard signs popping up.

Go to her website and watch her video. And then toss some cash her way by clicking on the donate button. The donation website is a little cumbersome, but she has all kinds of marvelous perks you can get for your donation, including artwork painted by people who are hanging out on her front porch.

In the face of a crime spree in my neighborhood, I'm totally inspired to reach out, instead of locking myself in.


Women Who Make America

Laurel threw my toothbrush into the toilet tonight. We're trying to transition into using regular toothpaste with her, and so we have to practice spitting, and our plumbing is in a state of disrepair at the moment so you have to brush your teeth in the bathtub. Nothing's ever simple. Does anyone else have 90 year old plumbing? It's tempting to see just how much longer you can push its life span. Like many old things, whatever you replace it with will not be as well constructed and will wear out faster, so you think long and hard before you take the old thing out of your house and put the new thing in. And while you are spending far too long thinking about that, you start thinking about other things, like why we don't have composting toilets and why you need a sink and a bathtub anyway. It seems excessive.

Anyway, brushing teeth is a twice daily battle of plaque vs. autonomy, and my toothbrush was a casualty tonight. I sent Laurel to her room to think about her behavior and she threw herself on her bed and sobbed, heartily sorry. Later I realized my explanation (of pee, poo and toilet paper are all that goes in the toilet) was incomplete - she sees me put the toilet brush in there all the time to clean it.

We rode our bikes to the farmer's market this afternoon. Margaret didn't have any help at the stand when we got there, so M hopped in, taking money and bagging up beets. I turned around at one point and Laurel was carefully carrying cucumbers, one at a time out of the bins in the back to the display in the front. I guess she saw Margaret doing it, and she just hopped in, to be helpful.

And that, is why I never get angry with her, even when she throws my toothbrush in the toilet. She makes a lot of messes, but she takes a lot of risks.

Once again, I forgot the Netflix password (Will I ever finish watching Weeds? Probably not.), but I did find a very interesting series on PBS called Makers: Women Who Make America. I think women of my generation are unaware of how recent many of the milestones for women really are. I had no idea, for instance, that there was a time when women were not even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon.

I wonder what barriers Laurel will face or break down.


Eating Breakfast

I eat breakfast every day now, sitting at the dining room table, taking my time. We're all in the house together in the morning, except farm days, when Mark leaves before sunrise. We talk and plan our days. It's a lovely way to start the day and I can't imagine why it's been, literally, years since I've sat down to breakfast. (Oh no, wait, I can remember. School. Bells. Special ed paperwork. Parent phone calls. Commute. Chronic sleep deprivation.)

 Zen Habits started the post with this quote today:

‘In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.’~Henry David Thoreau

 I'm on a mission to rid myself of the notion that I have to do things I don't want to do. That any of us have to do things we don't want to do. I ask myself the question, if I could do anything I want today, this afternoon, in this very moment...what would it be? Sometimes it's taking a nap. Sometimes it's writing articles for my website (to be launched soon! I can't wait!). Sometimes it's taking an impossibly slow walk with Laurel in the park, or watching tv with M.

I used to think I had to be a math teacher because there are no reading specialist jobs. But now, instead of haunting vacancy postings, I'm creating a space for me to work as a reading specialist. It's an incredibly powerful feeling, but I can see that I will only be successful at this if I strip away the distractions, simplify my needs and streamline my message. And as I work on those things, the universe does appear to be less complex....like a sky clearing after an overcast day.

Breakfast, however, will remain a priority.


Barefoot and Loving It

I've really gotten into the whole barefoot running thing lately. (Although, I mostly just walk around.) I never liked wearing shoes. I've had terrible bunions since I was a kid and they often caused me a great deal of pain. The surgery to repair them involved a frightening amount of bone breaking and screw insertion, and I decided it just wasn't worth the risks. My feet held up just fine on the Appalachian Trail and I don't seem to have any of the degenerative knee or hip pain that the podiatrist told me I would get as I aged. And in the past few months I have had absolutely no discomfort, swelling, inflammation or pain. I chalk it up to going, essentially, barefoot, and letting my goofy feet fall where they want to when I walk. Of course, I live in a city, so wearing something to protect my feet from hot pavement and broken glass is prudent. Therefore, I have a pair of $5 old navy flip flops and a pair of these Merrell wonder glove shoes. So much for orthotics and shoes with support and all that.

I can be barefoot a whole lot longer than just this summer, because....drum roll, please! I just quit my job. Yup. More to follow on that, but I'm not a public school teacher anymore.

One more way I'm getting barefoot, is by selling Barefoot Books. I discovered this fabulous catalog of books after my aunts bought a few Barefoot Books for Laurel. As a reading specialist and as a mom, I'm pretty much in love with each selection they offer. So many pretty illustrations and lovely rhythmic text. I'm a sucker for poetic prose, especially when I'm reading out loud and have a two year old snuggled up next to me. Laurel has recently become rather obsessed with princesses, which means she's bringing a lot of Disney books home from the library. It's not just that the Disney books are poorly written, but the Disney princesses are used to push all kinds of products to kids....everything from toothbrushes to shoes to snack foods. But Barefoot has its own collection of princess and fairy tale books that have well written stories and whimsical pictures. (And you will not see these images on cheap plastic toys at the Walgreens.)

Anyway, if you are so inclined to buy books for the little ones in your life, consider clicking on my marketplace link http://Katy-Frey.barefootbooks.com and then I can earn some money from your purchase. I can also host story time parties for a small group of kids and sponsor fundraising drives, and I have some great, big, dreamy goals for a literacy-based business I'll be launching later this summer. 


AC, I'm over it...

Heat wave broke. It was only 87 today and it felt heavenly. We started the day off with breakfast at the Square Cafe with my parents and it was lovely to move into the rest of the morning without any dishes to do. Laurel ordered pancakes and clapped with delight when they came out with strawberries and whipped cream.

Today felt like a normal summer day, and not an impossibly hot, end-of-the-world kind of day. M set up the grill and made jerk chicken and tempeh and a big pot of peas and rice and Laurel ran around in a sprinkler and we ate a lot of popsicles. I drank an ice cold, made-with-real-sugar coca cola with my dinner and now I can't fall asleep. I'm one of those people who are super sensitive to caffeine (I look like a detoxing junkie when I first go off coffee).  I guess I should have known better, but it was totally worth it. I filled a cup to the brim with ice and put a lime in it. Better than AC.


Heat Wave: The point in the summer where K longs for Central Air

I try to avoid looking up the weather report. But then I can't help myself and the 90 degree days are lined up through the whole week's forecast, and I sigh, but I'm not surprised. I wonder if there will be rain, but when it's 92 degrees, you don't even bother taking an umbrella with you; you'd rather get wet in the rain.

M went to the farm to work today. Since he took the car, Laurel and I set off by bus. The bus is air conditioned, and not very crowded during the day. Laurel delighted the old ladies sitting up front by shouting "Wheee! We're going fast!" and "That's Penn Avenue! I see a church! I see a Target!"I took her to the doctor's for a check-up, and then we went to Whole Foods and the library. All the free air conditioned places I could think of on the 71C bus line. The bus was definitely the highlight of our outing, though.

The toys haven't been picked up in days, and I just finished yesterday's breakfast dishes, because the kitchen is so hot by the end of the day that I give up on my early summer dream that "as soon as school let's out, I'll regain control of the housework, creating a household of peace and tranquility." Yes, I really do think that on a regular basis.

M came home with a crate of beet greens that he could not bear to see left in the field (Margaret, the farmer, just got a fancy beet cleaning machine, but you have to take the tops off, so most of them get left in the field at the harvest to be composted). He just weighed out the first pound and it hardly made a dent in the pile, so if you want some greens, give us a holler.

Occasionally, we talk about getting central air, but since we have radiators and no HVAC ductwork, it's a giant, huge, costly project and, besides, I think there's some merit to fully experiencing the seasons.  For one, Laurel smells like summer all the time now. Sweat and popsicles and swimming pools. Secondly, I really needed to chill out this summer, and the heat gives me plenty of reason to swing on my porch swing. And finally, when the crisp air of fall hits, it will be delicious and welcome.


Deciding How Busy You Want To Be

Laurel doesn't like to be rushed through anything, but you know how life is...sometimes you are just trying to get to your in-laws without being an hour late. And so you don't have time to look at every possible outfit she may want to wear and have a lengthy discussion about wearing a pull-up or underwear, and then sort through all the animals to see which ones want to come on a ride in the car. So, you rush, she cries, and everybody feels tense until the rock n roll in the car has been playing for a few minutes and we all chill out a bit. We are very lucky - or maybe very smart - that we don't have to rush that much right now. Only a few weeks ago, my whole day was filled with carefully timed activities we were all rushing through. Now, I get eight hours of sleep every night and even nap during the day sometimes. I walk or bike everywhere. I linger.

I really enjoy Laurel's company when we are at a lingering pace. On Friday, I picked her up from school on foot and bought her a slurpie (purple - her "best" color, as she calls it) from the corner market. We meandered through the nearly 100 degree heat and when we hit the fork in the path and Laurel said, can we go to the woods, I said yes. Sure. Why not? Because it was shady down there and we had water bottles and we were not in a rush. She spotted butterflies and black-eyed susans and wondered about a plant that had a flower on it that she didn't recognize. She found dog poop and a smooth flat pebble and we marveled at how this old dead tree that had a big hole in it was just gone...fell over the side of the hill, with its rotten insides splintered into the leaf duff.

Being busy is a little bit addicting, and it's a pattern I fall into over and over again. In my Teach For America Days we worked 18 hours a day, and drank coffee by the gallon. We thought we were very important and doing very important work, and maybe we were, but the more I learn about kids and from kids, the more I know that slowing down is a better policy. Keep it chill. Follow their lead. Let them ask the questions.

I got a kick out of this New York Times opinion piece:

  Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

M and I are at a cross-roads (when are we not?) and figuring out how we can all live and work together and meet our needs and not go crazy. Not being too busy is an integral part of our happiness. But every time I strip away the busyness that has piled up, I start to feel a little insecure. Am I still important? Am I still relevant? Will people think I'm lazy?